As the Rwandan genocide came to an end in 1994 it had already claimed one million innocent lives and the international community responded with a defiant shout of ‘never again’. Now, again we will repeat the same phrase as the tyrannical Syrian Government regains complete control of the widely symbolic and strategic city of Aleppo. Years of shelling and constant gunfights have led to the city being decimated and scarred for history to remember, or rather forget. A once bustling city representing a 1000 years of heritage, reduced to ashes for the sake of one bloodthirsty man to maintain his mantle of power and oppression. The hands of Bashar Al-Assad are stained red with blood and he carries on his shoulders the tormented lives of millions of Syrians and the death of thousands of innocent children whose only crime was to be alive at the wrong time. As Aleppo falls the UN simultaneously releases claims of execution style shootings of men, women and children in the final days of the siege as Russian warplanes indiscriminately shell schools, hospitals and innocent civilians. Protesters storm the streets of London asking for intervention, Obama is ridiculed and disgraced over his failed Syrian policy and the world mourns once again, just as it did in 1994 and so many times before that. One thing that history does tell us: we do not learn from our mistakes.
There is no doubt, everything that is happening in Aleppo and Syria is disgusting and a shameful portrayal of humanity. Yet on the one hand we berate and heckle the government for supporting an expansion of air strikes in Syria against ISIL and on the other hand we then protest about the lack of government intervention in Aleppo… at least Russia, deplorable as it is, has a coherent policy. We, the British public, seem to resort to our own incoherent messages and blame game tactics in some kind of method to find reason where there is none and justify the unjustifiable.
This civil war is immensely complex with numerous factions warring against each other whilst also aiding their enemies unwillingly. This savage war began through a gradual increase in peaceful protests and harsh retaliation by the government until violence essentially escalated to the point where there were two defining groups in opposition, leading to a civil war. These pro-democracy protests began in 2011, they were not culturally divisive, they were uniting as Kurds, Sunnis, Shias and Christians all marched against the tyranny of Bashar Al-Assad. Several decades of repression from the Assad family coupled with the Arab Springs inspired a nationwide movement of protest at such corruption and rightfully so. The job of the international community was to stand with these protesters and protect their own democratic values in the face of such oppression. From the turmoil emerges the Free Syrian Army, establishing a ‘National Coalition’, (which the West recognises in 2012 as the legitimate representative of Syria) and the pro-government Assad forces.
As sanctions rained down upon Syria, nations began to take sides for merely political and expansionist reasons. The United States and Britain started non-lethal funding for major Syrian opposition groups in 2011 along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey also beginning its support for the opposition forces. Just as Assad seemed to be crumbling and an end to the war in sight, Russia stormed the scene in late 2012. Russia sent military personnel, under the guise of military advisers, to man the pro-government forces’ anti-aircraft defences[i]. Iran also revved up its longstanding support for the Syrian Government by pumping in $9bn in financial support. Then come the multitude of terrorist organisations, Jabhat al-Nusra and rival organisation ISIS, both oppose Assad whilst Hezbollah, the Iranian backed terrorist organisation, began its co-operation with the pro-Government forces in 2011.
These belligerents don’t even cover all the factions involved in this hectic civil war, it is full of contradicting support and ambitious states looking to gain an upper hand in some kind of end goal.
The West’s goal was (and still is) to defeat the rise of terrorist organisations and covertly remove Assad, it attempted to do this through the CIA’s Timber Sycamore operation to fund and train rebel forces in addition to the $500mn Syrian Train and Equip Programme to train 15,000 rebels. Distressingly their funding has instead resulted in increased arms for said terrorist organisations due to funded Syrian rebel groups selling the West’s donated weaponry to the black market where arms dealers sell them onto to ISIS and other terrorist groups. In fact some of this weaponry, which is routinely stolen by Jordanian intelligence officials, was used in a shooting which killed two Americans at a training compound in Amman[ii]. Those 15,000 rebels also amounted to only a handful of rebel fighters whilst others either ended up defecting to extremist groups or being quickly defeated. There is also the worsening of relations between the two major superpowers as the U.S engages in an almost proxy war scenario with Russia.
As if the crowd of warring factions could not be increased, enter Turkey and Saudi Arabia, allies of the Western coalition, with the official goal to destabilise Assad and apparently eliminate terrorism. Yet they appear to be funding terrorist organisations such as Jabhat al-Nusra to fight against pro-Government forces[iii]. Both countries also appear to be bombing ISIS whilst simultaneously buying oil (indirectly) from ISIS… confused yet? It seems like anti-Assad nations seem to be in highly chaotic disarray whilst the Kremlin laughs from its high chair.
In fact Russia’s stated goal seems to be fighting terrorism, yet it indiscriminately bombs anti-Assad forces including moderate rebel groups who are also fighting against ISIS and other extremist groups. Included in Russia’s vast array of targets are those pesky little terrorist breeding hubs called ‘hospitals’[iv] where they appear to be providing terrorist radicalisation programmes(!) In other words Russia has contributed to bombing schools and hospitals which aim to treat innocent civilians caught up in a brutally unforgiving civil war. It is morally reprehensible that the so-called peace loving state of Russia can engage in such deplorable activities without sufficient consequences. It also appears to be aiding Hezbollah, the Syrian (government) and Iranian backed terrorist organisation, in its goal of destroying the rebel forces and keeping Assad in power.
It is evident; the true aims of Russia, Iran and its like are not to maintain peace or defeat terrorism, but to hold back the ‘imperialistic nations of the West’ and halt their apparent insidious ways to annex the governments of Moscow and Tehran. We do not want expansionist countries such as Russia with their paranoid views gaining an upper hand in the international community; it is dangerous and regressive. The United States and Britain stand for democratic and basic human rights for all; they have a moral obligation as the leaders to prevent backward thinking countries such as Russia gaining leverage in the world. They have failed drastically here.
Maintaining coherent Middle Eastern policy is near impossibly without contradicting your own goals and committing domestic political suicide, for example, calling for intervention would spell the end of your career. The liberal idea of intervention through diplomacy has not yet failed completely, but in Syria there is only one solution.
Military intervention. This was supposed to happen when Obama ‘drew’ his red-line on chemical weapon use yet he seemed to fail to go ahead with this policy which will leave lasting damage on how America is perceived by its allies in the future. The issue with intervention is not entering a state and toppling a dictator, this should be encouraged, the problem lies with the aftermath and how stability is achieved. In Japan occupation ended after several years when security and cohesion was achieved with only minimal yet effective regime change. We seem to tremble and wring our fists in anger at the single utterance of the word with one country always coming into mind, Iraq. We know why the post-invasion stability failed in Iraq and we can fix these mistakes. Politics and public emotion has trumped any attempt at coherent policy in the Middle East, the biggest mistake of Iraq was pulling out troops in 2011 by the U.S before it was safe to do so without unleashing chaos. Effectively, Obama didn’t end the war in Iraq, he restarted it. If stability is to be achieved, troops and Western officials need to remain there in order to achieve it fully before any attempt to withdraw is made; this is what should have happened in Iraq, and now Syria.
So the next time you take to the streets in opposition at your Government’s actions (or lack of) in Syria or any other country ravaged by a war, remember the complexity of the war, the conflicts of interest and that intervention is not a tool handed to us by the devil. It can be a humanitarian cause if used correctly, as Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.